SUPER LEAGUE’S new format has been given a thumb’s up by Leeds Rhinos legend Jamie Peacock.
With 23 league matches played, clubs in First Utility Super League and the Kingstone Press Championship will now split into three groups of eight.
The elite division’s top teams will go into the Super-8s, to produce semi-finalists for a place in the title decider at Old Trafford; the bottom four will compete with the Championship’s leading quartet in the Qualifiers for places in Super League next year and the rest will fight it out in the Championship Shield, to avoid relegation to League One.
Peacock reckons the new system is an improvement on the old format of 27 league rounds and then play-offs. He said: “I tweeted on Friday night that the games on TV [last Thursday and Friday] were probably the first I’ve seen all year that lacked any real intensity.
“I think that’s down to the structure. I think the structure’s brought through games all year that have had intensity. Games have had intensity because there’s been plenty to play for, every point has counted and every two points you win has been massive. You saw that with a dip in intensity at the weekend, because the positions were already settled. I believe the structure has worked.”
Rhinos are in pole position for a semi-final spot after topping the league table at the end of the weekly rounds. Points from the first 23 matches carry over into the Super-8s and Leeds already hold a seven-point advantage over fifth-placed Castleford Tigers.
“It’s good to finish first, because it gives you home ties against your nearest rivals, the teams that finish second and third in the league,” Peacock said. “Home advantage is always good, you’ve seen that throughout Super League this year. No team has a great away record in Super League this year.
“I think ours is probably the best, but other teams have struggled. So to finish first and get the most points going into the back seven games, the Super-8s, gives you the best chance of getting into the four. And if you are in the four, you can win the Grand Final.”
Rhinos have a Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final – against St Helens at Warrington on Friday – to focus on before the Super-8s begin. Peacock predicted: “I think it’ll be a great occasion. It’s going to be a different type of game. Challenge Cup games normally are and this one’s on a Friday night.
“Night games are different to day games, there’s a different feel and a different way to win a night game. We’ve played well against St Helens previously this year, but that counts for nothing. But the team really wants to get to Wembley and for me personally, I’d love to get there one last time.”
First against second on the league ladder sets the scene for what could be a classic Cup encounter. And Peacock added: “Saints are a great side. They are well-coached, they have some very, very good players and they’ve played consistently well throughout the year.
“That’s why they are second in the league and in a Cup semi-final. You don’t fluke that. We are going to give them a great amount of respect and know we are going to have to play a 10 out of 10 game if we want to get to Wembley.”
Peacock feels Rhinos are going into the tie in good form. He said: “There’s always room for improvement, but I think the team’s going well and it’s good to get almost everybody back on board.
“It was good to see Jonesy and Tom [Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Tom Briscoe] come through Sunday’s game [against Catalans]. They are players you need in big games and I think Mitch Garbutt has been great since he came over and started playing for us.
“It looks like he’s enjoying himself. He’s a good fella and he’s got stuck into it. He’s in with the team and he’s playing well. He’s given us that size.
“It’s good to have that size, but he’s fit with it and athletic, as well as being big, so he has been good for us.”
Peacock will retire at the end of this season, along with fellow prop Kylie Leuluai. There were fears Rhinos would lack size next year, but that has been addressed with the recruitment of Garbutt, Anthony Mullally and former Australian Test front-rower Keith Galloway.
“I think they’ve signed some great players,” Peacock said of the pack trio.
“They will give them some good go-forward, so there’s no worries with the transition with myself, Kylie and Kev Sinfield leaving.
“They’ve recruited well and they’ll be a threat, as always.”
Galloway will join Rhinos next year on a three-season contract and Peacock said: “He’s a great player. You don’t play for Australia and New South Wales without being a good player and he certainly is.
“He has performed well for a number of years and from what he’s said and what I’ve read he is going to come here with the right attitude.
“That’s the key to overseas players, if they want to come here and enjoy the country and the culture then they will enjoy their rugby and he certainly will do.”